The last we saw of this brassy pop princess in late 2018, she was set to launch her debut EP, but she’s since taken a different route. While the 24-year-old has a new single, Softly, launching this month, she’s decided that artistes now can drop new work as and when they’re ready for consumption, or in other words, she’s doing a Beyonce.
That and other factors such as #adulting means that she’s done a lot of growing up since we last spoke to her. Already, she’s raising the bar with the music video for Softly– the ‘oos-inflected production was directed by Ashley Thompson and shot by Greg Stephen Reigh, both of whom have worked with artistes like Chance the Rapper, Shea Coulee and Dorian Electra. That and the fact that she’s putting on her first solo show in her birth city of Manila this month only means that the #glowup is real.
Hey YsA, could you tell us about your new single? What’s it about?
I have a new single called “Softly” that I just released this month. In the past year, I’ve been going through a series of events, which most people know as adulting. It’s been a year of self-discovery and maturity for me, having just graduated and entering the adult world. One of the things that inspired me to write this new song was… you guessed it, love. I’ve become more self-aware of how I usually am when I catch feelings and I learnt to embrace the ups and downs; how I get a little boy crazy when I have a crush on someone, and the heartbreak that comes with it. Just being grateful for even being able to experience any of those feelings.
The last time we interviewed you, you mentioned your debut EP was postponed. How’s that coming along?
Well in the past year, I’ve been thinking about how people listen to music nowadays, and things are different now. I guess traditionally, doing a single, then an EP, and then an album was the way to go. But I quite like the idea that artists today can just release music whenever they want to, and don’t have to churn out songs just to make it an album. I have songs just waiting to be released, but as you’ve seen with my previous singles, I go all out with each release.
Walk us through your approach to creating new music – would you say your songs are typically based around personal experiences? Do you write everything yourself?
Most of the time, it’s personal experiences. It’s what drives me. I reflect a lot on experiences from the past and I express those feelings through music or visuals, which usually makes me look forward and so excited for the future. That’s what I did with all the singles I’ve released so far. But what’s different with the new single, ‘Softly’, I wanted to expand my writing/production skills and decided to collaborate with another producer. I think there’s also something beautiful when you bounce off ideas with another artist/producer, and you learn new things about yourself as an artist/producer too.
What were your biggest music influences growing up?
It’s definitely a lot of the music I heard at home growing up. My earliest memory of music was, at age 3, knowing the choreography of “As Long As You Love Me” by the Backstreet Boys, and I remember looking through my dad’s CD collection and always wondered why he was always listening to Duran Duran. I remember not being only captivated by their music, but also their music videos. Getting to dress up as different characters or in different themes was so fascinating to me. I think from a young age, I understood that by combining music and visuals together, it was a unique way of telling a story. But as I grew up and had more access to music from different times and places, I discovered music on my own accord and that I wholeheartedly liked, such as the Cocteau Twins and PC Music.
Who are you listening to these days?
These days I find myself listening to Lauv and LANY a lot. Really into the feels. I also have been listening to early 2000’s bops like Jojo, the Pussycat Dolls and Mariah Carey’s “The Emancipation of Mimi” era. And ngl I love to search “chick flick playlists” on Spotify to get through the day.
Where would you say you are as a musician now since we last spoke to you in 2018?
I think I grew up as not just a musician, but also as a person. When I first started out putting my music out there, I was just kinda going for the ride and wasn’t really sure what was the “proper” way of doing it. I now feel I’ve entered this new stage of my life. And after releasing my first set of singles, I think I’m a lot more self-aware of the music I want to share to the world. But I always do remind myself to have fun with it, like how I did from the start.
What is the Ysa Yaneza sound now? Would you say it’s evolved?
I’ve been exploring and playing with different sounds and rhythms from other genres of music that I enjoy, so kinda like r&b and soft rock. I like to figure out how to put things that I like together, and at the same time, still listen to my audience – knowing what kinda music they like. I do dream about putting out a rock album someday.
What other projects or plans might you be working on for 2020 that you can share details on?
I’d like to do more live shows/performances this year. Getting to perform your music to audiences is definitely one of my favourite parts of being a musician. Being able to connect to people with music that you’ve written is such a blessing. I’ll be on a press tour in Manila (where I was born!) and will be doing my first Manila live show in February. I’m really excited for my relatives to come watch. They’ve only seen me perform on videos that my mom would share online growing up.
This story first appeared in the February 2020 print issue of FEMALE.
Photography Vee Chin Styling Imran Jalal
Hair Erina Nakajima/ 1tto+LIM Makeup Sha Shamsi, using Dior